The Psychological Benefits of Mindfulness: How to practice Mindfulness
“Eyes watching. Ears listening. Voices quiet. Body still.” – These words said by a wise kindergarten teacher to her 5-year-old students perfectly embodies the essence of mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness – very simply – involves increasing our attention and awareness to the present moment – the here and now. And continuing to draw it back to that present moment each and every time our attention drifts. Mindfulness is something all of us have many experiences with, often throughout the course of each day. We just aren’t mindful – of being mindful!
So when are we naturally mindful? We are mindful when we are present, engaged, when our mind is on the task at hand, and when we are immersed in what we are doing with all of our senses. Most of us are naturally mindful when we are engaging in an activity or creative pursuit we love – during a focused, intense workout; when we are creating art; when we are freely dancing around to music; and when we are making love, just to name a few.
However, when we are under stress, demands, or dealing with mood issues, we are much less likely to naturally be mindful.
Science tells us that being intentionally and actively mindful has so many positive benefits on our psychological health.
These include, but are not limited to:
- reduction of stress
- reduced rumination
- decreased symptoms of depression & anxiety
- less emotional reactivity & more effective emotion regulation
- increased focus
- enhanced cognitive flexibility
- improved working memory
Mindfulness is a skill that we can learn to foster, enhance and implement across all areas of our life.
How to practice Mindfulness
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness and not every way is going to work for every person. So, give a few different methods a try and find what works best for you. And remember that practice does make perfect. It won’t be easy at first, but the more you practice the more your skills will improve, and the easier time you will have being mindful in stressful situations.
1. Focus on Your Breathing
A great, and simple, way to start practicing mindfulness is to focus on your breathing. This is something you can do almost anywhere. You don’t have to do a breathing exercise – just take a deep breath and pay attention to that breath and nothing else.
Ideally, you can be in a comfortable seated position. Focus on how your breaths feel moving in and out of your body without attempting to change them. Notice when your thoughts start to wander and bring it back to your breath.
At first, you can start by just doing this for a few minutes, but as your skills improve you can increase the length of time you do this.
If you prefer focused breathing exercises, try my go-to approach for breathing: Four Stage Breathing.
2. Mindful Eating
This is another mindfulness activity you can easily build into your day-to-day routine. Because most of us have such busy lives these days, we often rush through our meals or combine eating with other activities, like eating at our desk while we work – or eating in front of the TV in the evening. Mealtimes are the perfect time to take a minute and slow down.
Next time you have a little extra time for your meal, sit down and eat mindfully without any other distractions. Mindful eating consists of being present and engaging all of your senses. Slow down, sense and savour your food and even smile between bites if you are so inclined! Purposefully slow down. Use all your senses to see, touch, smell, and really taste your food.
Structured Mindfulness Practices
If you would like a little more structured mindfulness exercises and have a few minutes you can put aside to practice, give one of these two meditation approaches a try. Don’t be off-put by the use of the term meditation. Mindfulness and meditation practices while different, have some overlap. The exercises below are meant to help you to feel present in your body – and are different than the stereotypical cross-legged practice many people think of when they hear meditation.
1. Body scan meditation.
Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body.
2. Walking meditation.
Find a quiet place 10 to 20 feet in length, and begin to walk slowly. Focus on the experience of walking, being aware of the sensations of standing and the subtle movements that keep your balance. When you reach the end of your path, turn and continue walking, maintaining awareness of your sensations.
Looking for resources on how to teach your children about mindfulness? Check out our other blog here.
MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction) and MBCT (Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) are evidence-based treatments for stress, anxiety and depression which combine CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) with mindfulness approaches. These are modalities of treatment that all of our clinicians are familiar with and often incorporate into treatment.
If you have been thinking about seeing a therapist and would like one with these skills, I encourage you to take that first step starting today. Contact Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych. & Associates today and start on the path to finding the right fit for you!
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